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No. 45: May-Jun 1986

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Eastern Quakes May Be Lubricated By Heavy Rainfalls

Some of our continent's most powerful earthquakes have shaken the eastern half rather than the Pacific states, where the edges of tectonic plates grind together. The devastating New Madrid and Charleston quakes did not occur at plate boundaries, and it is hard to find active faults to blame for the crustal commotion. A hint of a possible solution to the dilemma comes with the correlation of earthquakes with heavy rainfalls and high water tables. For example, the Charleston quake of 1886 was preceded by two years of unusually heavy rainfall followed by a short dry spell. Also, seismicity in the New Madrid (MO) area increases 6-9 months after the Mississippi has crested. The theory is that the added water penetrates deep into the earth where it lubricates faults, causing them to become active and jolt the surface above.

(Weisburd, S.; "Trickle-Down Theory of Eastern Quakes," Science News, 129:165, 1986.)

Comment. The above correlations and our inability to explain deep-focus earthquakes underscore our ignorance of the mantle. To illustrate, Soviet drillers have found fluids circulating through fractured rocks 11 kilometers down, where one would expect every thing to be sealed tight by the weight of the overlying sediments.

From Science Frontiers #45, MAY-JUN 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987